Is It ‘0-and-2’ Or ‘Full Count’ For Academic Libraries

The start of the major league baseball season is here again, so a baseball reference in the title of this post seems appropriate. But it also refers to a topic we’ve covered before at ACRLog – the similarities between newspapers and libraries. Both are faced with pressures to deal with disruptive technology and change. Previously we wrote about newspapers in the context of competing in the Internet age and in imagining how libraries might be madeover if they attempted some of the strategies being adopted by newspapers.

The future of the newspaper industry and the challenges it faces from the Internet is the topic of an article in a recent issue of Knowlege at Wharton (free registration required to view this article). It states:

Newspapers have two big strikes against them: They are in a mature industry (the first regularly published newspaper came out some 400 years ago in Europe) and they are a textbook example (stockbrokers are another) of an intermediary between sources of information and customers — a role that is being increasingly challenged by the Internet.

Sound familiar to you? It’s clear that these same two strikes are ones that academic libraries face in trying to connect with their user communities. Three strategies are suggested if we – and newspapers – are to remain competitive:
* attract younger audiences
* use the Internet more imaginatively
* create local strength

When you consider these strategies, the count is hardly “0-and-2”. We may have some surprises in our lineup after all. Take younger audiences for example. We’ve got direct access to them, but we need to find ways to connect with them in their learning spaces and to deliver our resources in ways that make it practical and beneficial to use what the library offers. We also need to take advantage of instructional opportunities to help students learn the advantages of taking a balanced approach to research.

Academic librarians are also constantly on the move to find ways to use the Internet more imaginatively and effectively. We are leading the way on our campuses in experimenting with and exploring social software and a variety of technologies that might be characterized as Web 2.0.

Our strongest competitive advantage is the ability to deliver local strength. We know our students and their information needs better than any Internet search provider. The challenge is to capitalize on our local ties to students and faculty to attract students to the library. That could be accomplished through a mix of resources tailored to specific assignments, uniquely developed web content, bringing student art and projects into the library’s display areas, and making the effort to get to know students.

Though the outlook for academic libraries may sometimes seem bleak, we should remind ourselves of two things.First, we are not the only industry challenged to adapt to an Internet universe – and there are going to be lessons we can learn from those that do succeed in a different competitive landscape. Second, we do have strategies at our disposal to prevent ourselves from being marginalized. That’s the best thing about the first week of the new season. No matter what has happened in the past, it’s a whole new ball game and hope springs eternal.

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